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A middle school it is!

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Supervisors take action on school budget

By John Barnhart

    The Liberty Zone will be getting a new middle school. That’s the consensus that Bedford County’s supervisors came to during a work session Monday night.
    The supervisors also decided at the Monday evening work session what will be done with the extra revenue that the 2-cent increase, passed on April 14, will generate. According to County Administrator Mark Reeter, the new tax rate will bring in an extra $1.53 million.
    At Board Chairman John Sharp’s suggestion, the supervisors reached a consensus to direct $500,000 of this toward the solid waste fund to begin accumulating the money that will be needed to open a new cell at the landfill.
    The landfill also sparked discussion about raising the tipping fee. According to Reeter, the residential tipping fee is $57 while the commercial tipping fee is $38. Reeter said that, at one point, the county made up the difference between   the  two   fees   with transfers from the general fund. That practice ended several years ago. Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers said the transfers amounted to a $400,000 per year subsidy on the commercial rate.
    Sharp commented that he does not like the idea of taxpayers subsidizing the tipping fee.
    “I just want to bring it in line with what it costs to operate the landfill,” Sharp said.
    According to Reeter, raising the commercial tipping fee by $10 will generate an additional $140,000.
    The supervisors plan to make a decision on raising the commercial tipping fee after getting more information from county staff.
    Five hundred thousand dollars of the new tax revenue will be dedicated to emergency service apparatus. District 3 Supervisor Steve Wilkerson said that he would like at least $500,000 dedicated to firetrucks. He said the fire commission has an 11-year plan for buying seven pieces of fire apparatus. However, at Sharp’s suggestion. the money was earmarked for the more general category of emergency service apparatus in case a need for a new ambulance comes up. This money was added to the $800,000 that has already been earmarked for this fund.
    The remaining $530,000 was earmarked for a fund to pay for construction of a new middle school. The money left over from the renovations at Jefferson Forest High School was earmarked for this purpose, as was $1 million from the money slated to be transferred to the school division.
    The county budget called for level funding the school division with a $39 million transfer to the schools. However, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard wanted to withhold between $1 million and $2 million from that amount for construction of a new school. Pollard said that the $6 million coming to the schools as a result of Bedford’s reversion to town status was supposed to be used to build the new school, but is going into the school division’s operating budget instead.
    “The school division has chosen to put it all in operations and ignore the school,” she said.
    “I’m going to have a hard time supporting a decrease in that $39 million,” Wilkerson commented.
    Wilkerson said the school division got hit with some big expenses this year, citing large increases in health insurance costs, Virginia Retirement System (VRS) costs and capital improvement needs.
    Sharp worried about what will happen when the reversion money goes away. He said that will be a big drop-off, “like a cliff.”
    Following Sharp’s suggestion, all the supervisors, with the exception of Wilkerson, agreed that $1 million of the $39 million budgeted for schools should be moved into a reserve and not released until new school construction starts.
    The supervisors also reached a consensus that the school division should build a new middle school. Sharp broached the subject by citing the reversion agreement, which calls for a new middle school.
    “The agreement we made in the agreement was to build a middle school, not a high school,” Sharp said. Several members of the community have been asking that a new high school be built and the current Liberty High School facility be reconfigured as a middle school. There had also been a study commissioned by the school board to look at a hybrid option, in which the two schools could share some facilities.
    The board reached a unanimous consensus on Sharp’s suggestion of building the middle school.
    “We’re going to build a middle school,” Sharp said.